How to avoid legal transformation project failure (Part K - GLS’s Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations)

An introduction to Part K - 10 Things That Can Sink Your Legal Operations Agenda (GLS's Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations)

5 mins • 03 Feb 22


Protect your legal team transformation project from failure

In this Blog, we share some of the most valuable insights that we can possibly share with the rapidly growing GLS Legal Operations Community - how to protect your transformation project from common risks of failure. This Blog is a “print it off and pin it to your wall” legal ops insight.

In our Blog - The In-house Leader's Leadership Dilemma - we wrote about the high personal price that can potentially attach to in-house leaders if their transformation efforts were to fail. In this piece, we focus on effective strategies that in-house leaders can deploy to mitigate the risks of failure from their legal team transformation plans. 

The recommendations in this Blog, if implemented, can help spare you and your legal team from the high price of project failure - something that can bite personally (on your reputation), impact your team (damaged morale and increased churn) and cost your business hundreds of thousands (if not millions) in squandered resources and lost productivity. 

A reminder of the price of legal team transformation failure

Failure is not an option. It sounds simple, and we have all heard the expression before. But does it make sense in the legal team transformation context?  

In-house leaders (General Counsel, Chief Legal Officers, Heads of Legal, etc.) do not want to be tarred by the brush of failure. And critically, if your transformation stumbles and falls - whatever limited support you might have could quickly disappear. 

The odds are actually stacked against legal transformation in most organizations. A cynical view? Yes  - but our experience confirms it each and every day. Most internally led and implemented legal team efficiency initiatives fail to deliver. Why?

In truth, most corporate ecosystems are littered with the remains of failed transformation projects (think of the failed HR, ERP, and CRM implementation). 

Internal corporate appetite for transformation initiatives generally remains low in most organizations. It is a job on top of a job for most employees and almost always a move away from the comforts of known ways of doing things - even if they are imperfect. 

Additionally, in the in-house legal space, corporate counsel are generally not considered likely ambassadors for effective change. Lawyers don't necessarily have the historic background as “change” makers.  This is changing of course but it is a pretty good characterization of a reputation well earned by the legal profession over the past 200 years. 

And yet, for those that dare to embrace an incredible opportunity, legal transformation can still readily thrive in spite of the challenging landscape into which it is implemented. One thing that is more predictable than the inertia and apathy of the average corporate ecosystem is the infinite number of fathers willing to claim ownership of a successful son. If you can demonstrate success after success you will be very popular indeed.  

The answer, therefore, is that legal transformation can only be successfully pursued if you aggressively and obsessively pursue a “guaranteed to succeed” implementation strategy. And this means ruling out any and all obstacles that might negatively impact your program. 

Let's quickly look at a major cause of legal team transformation failure - i.e. “you”. That is a version of “you” that thinks that what you currently know is all that you need to know to get the job done right.  

DIY legal team transformation - inherently risky

There is a significant inherent risk in presiding over your own legal team transformation - that is, defining it and implementing it all by yourself without an active strategy to access the skills, support, resources, methodologies, and experience that you need to succeed.

Board support for transformation obtained - well done!

Consider the following: your Board now supports your case for legal transformation - congratulations. You have made a powerful case for a legal transformation program that better aligns the legal team with the objectives of the business - the Board is now determined to see it succeed. They now want to find the very best person to lead this job.

Let's look at this challenge through the eyes of what is best for the business - a lens through which your legal team needs to be looking each and every day. What do you see?  

Perspective: you are now on the Board of your business. Your persuasive legal team leader (i.e. the other you) has finally convinced the Board that the legal team is very much in need of transformation so as to support the strategic needs of the business. You (as a Board Member) now need to consider who is best placed to lead this initiative so that it has the best prospects of success - whether that be an internal or external resource. 

You (as a Board Member) start working up a list of credentials that you believe would be needed for the transformation program to succeed. Take a look at the criteria below and, as a Board Member, consider whether you disagree with the inclusion of any of these criteria from your leadership job spec. After all - given the importance of this project to the business - would you want to skimp on any qualifications and criteria in the leadership of this program?

Head of Legal Team Transformation - could that really be an “as-is” version of you?

If you wanted the best person for a critical task - your head of operations/transformation program job description might read a little bit like this:

"We are seeking an outstanding professional to lead our legal team as it transforms into a world-class team that positively supports the realization of our Company's corporate objectives in a business-enabling, safe and efficient manner.

The ideal candidate will be able to lead our transformation into a legal team where our legal team members are motivated to perform at the highest levels and in an environment that achieves operational excellence and exceptional legal team efficiency each day through optimized operating practices that, in turn, delivers greater capacity to our legal team to focus on the strategic support needs of our business. 

We are looking for a candidate that has the following attributes - lets us know if you meet our requirements - which we do not want to compromise on - as we all know how very important the legal function is to our business." 

  • Solution Landscape Familiarity: Familiar with best-in-class current legal services solutions landscape
  • Legal Process Management: Expert in legal process management
  • Legal Operations Expertise: Knowledge and competency in legal operations management - director of operations experience highly desirable
  • Legal Technology Expertise: Deep industry-wide legal tech knowledge expertise
  • Change Management Credentials: Proven success in change management
  • Digital transformation: Experience formulating a digital transformation strategy for the legal function
  • Vendor Management Track Record: a proven track record of value generation with strategic vendors, including law firms
  • Transformation Track Record: Strong record of successful implementations - case studies of prior success required
  • Available Workload Capacity: Actually has the capacity to devote to the project
  • Data Analytics Expertise: Expert in data capture,  interpretation, and data-led decision making
  • Business Process Engineering: Knowledgeable in business process engineering and optimization
  • Excellent Communication Skills: Proven communication skills
  • Proven Implementation skills: Acknowledged as a successful “implementor” of internal projects
  • Strong Internal Stakeholder Support: Strong stakeholder support - Board, Finance, IT, Compliance, Risk, etc
  • Motivated Internal Team: Ability to generate enthusiastic and motivated support from the existing legal team that currently faces significant capacity constraints
  • Systems Integration Expertise: Proven competencies in systems mapping and integration
  • Technology Approval Authority: Ability to define legal tech solutions, secure budget, and implement
  • Proven Budgetary Skills: Strong track record in productivity yield from available budgets and financial management generally
  • Knowledge Management Expertise: Expert in knowledge leverage strategies as evidenced by current/proven knowledge outcomes
  • Internal Client Champion: Proven to command respect and support from internal clients
  • Strategic Planning: Strong record for effective strategic planning
  • Data Driven: Established track record of data-driven decision-making and planning
  • Legal Dept. Tool Success: Strong experience in developing, implementing, and using legal department technology solutions
  • Client/Customer Experience Centric: Able to deliver a strong client-centric focus to legal service delivery strategies
  • Cross Functional Collaborator: Proven success at cross-function collaboration
  • Academic Qualifications: Bachelor of Applied Science, Management, Computer Science or similar
  • Minimum Experience: At least 5+ years of proven experience in legal operations. Current admission to a recognized bar and past experience in legal practice is also highly desirable.

Do you fit the transformation leader job description?

Now - please switch roles - one final time - you are no longer a Board Member - you are in fact you in your present role. As awesome as you are - how strong would your application for this role be? Do you have the capabilities and the capacity to perform this role in addition to your current role as functional head of the legal team? 

"And that is the inherent risk of self-authored and self-delivered legal transformation projects." 

Not that you are not, in fact, great at what you do - but what needs to be done involves a diverse range of skill sets that you might not have despite historically having been at the top of your game. It also requires precious time for you to focus and dedicate solely to the task at hand. 

And this is also why so many internally defined and led and implemented transformation projects end in failure or simply fail to get off the ground in the first place. 

Avoiding common causes of legal team performance project failures

Having supported so many in-house legal team transformations we have gained great visibility as to where the “potholes” can typically be expected to be – we wish to share this knowledge with you.

Here are 10 things that can sink your legal team transformation program:

  1. Shiny Boxes: there is no single shiny box solution for a legal team/department transformation - if someone offers you this - run!
  2. Institutional Inertia: it is a real thing - you need strategies to combat it
  3. Big Bangs: never attempt a Big Bang implementation. Instant failure. No chance of success.
  4. Myopic Technology Focus: focus on a solution design that doesn't require technology first - seriously! Tech should always come later.
  5. GC Only Initiatives: heads of Legal - get the heck out of the road and let your team help. You are likely the least qualified person to lead the program. Involve your juniors.
  6. Aggressive timelines: transformation cannot be rushed - the end. It takes 2 years as a minimum.
  7. Pass & Proceed: only do the next thing if you were successful with the previous thing
  8. Budget: don't be fooled - you don't need a massive budget to transform - budget is not a reason for inactivity
  9. Formative Stations: do not ignore legal team infrastructure components that have the effect of determining overall function capabilities (See Part F of the GLS Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations for more on this)
  10. Ignoring Data: do not ignore data capture that justifies decision-making and demonstrates your success

Each of these themes is unpacked in far more detail in Part K of the GLS Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations which is available as a complimentary download. 

Part K of the GLS Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations examines in detail how to avoid legal team/department transformation project failure and is available to download as a standalone chapter here:


Or you can download the entire interactive version of the GLS Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations here. 

Beware consultant-led and delivered programs

Be under no illusions, this Blog is not advocating that the internal team should strike transformation from their agenda. Far from it. A legal team that does not substantially self-author and actively participate in the transformation project is just as likely to encounter project failure. 

The secret to success lies between the two extremes and doing what lawyers do best - which is being lawyers. 

Despite being terribly placed to oversee a legal team transformation by reference to vocational experience - lawyers are outstanding in acquiring massive amounts of information quickly. 

So, in-house legal team leaders need to obtain the information they need to tool up in transformation knowledge as quickly as possible - you are on that path by reviewing this Blog and utilizing the vast array of resources that GLS offers to the GLS Legal Operations Community (see more below).

And, you must obtain potent support on the things that truly matter on your project and/or where you simply do not have the capacity and/or expertise. 

A fundamental truth as you seek optimal legal team efficiency

If you have not managed to review our video introduction to the GLS Legal Operations Centre you can do so below. In that video we sought to define our proposition as succinctly and genuinely as we could. The leadership of GLS Group agonized over the script until we got it just right. 

There is one line in particular which we  want to share with you as it is a powerful message in support of the theme of this Blog - how to avoid failure. The line goes like this. 

At its heart is a fundamental truth. To achieve anything truly great, some tasks require the help of others. And this is what we do at GLS - we collaborate with you so that you can achieve successful results. 

Watch our introduction to the GLS Legal Operations Centre here - it is a perfect introduction to our core offering and goes for less than 90 seconds. We hope you love it as much as we do. 


Please check out the GLS solutions and know-how resources listed on the right side of this page – they might assist your legal team with the issues explored in this Blog. 

Of course, if you would like discuss your transformation needs – please book a 30 minute FREE CONSULT WITH GLS 

In the interim, here are 7 resources and tools that may assist you as you transform the performance capabilities of your legal team:

1. GLS's Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations: download this HERE, and read it thoroughly and regularly. It is a wonderful transformation companion

2. GLS Transformation Boot Camp: for our free and hugely successful, 10 week long, email-based boot camp on how to effectively transform your legal team you can SIGN UP HERE

3. GLS Knowledge Centre: click HERE to access lots of informative and instructive white papers, blogs and training resources etc. - all focused on helping to improve your legal team's performance

4. GLS Legal Operations Community: join the GLS Legal Operations Community and collaborate with other in-house leaders as they seek to tackle many of the same performance issues that you face, click here to JOIN NOW

5. Visit GLS Connect: visit the GLS CONNECT PAGE and select the information you would like to receive from the GLS Legal Operations Community

6. GLS Legal Team Transformation Plans: mitigate the risks of transformation failure by taking a GLS TRANSFORMATION SUPPORT PLAN 

7. Register: GLS Legal Operations Centre: REGISTER HERE to access the GLS Legal Operations Centre for free and to receive more than US$20,000 worth of legal team performance resources

© The GLS Group - Law Rewritten


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